This week we are introducing some unusual biblical animals that are also first names of biblical characters or have become first names in modern Hebrew. It may sound quite weird to both English speakers and Israelis that people have been named after these animals. Yet, for Hebrew speakers who have learned the Bible in Israeli schools starting from grade one through senior year in high school, these strange names are more acceptable. Of course, some animal names are very popular in Hebrew (and in other languages with their linguistically modified forms), like the name ‘Aryeh,’ a lion, that we discussed last week. The international form of a ‘Aryeh’ as a first name is ‘Leo’ and its derivatives such as Leopold, Leonard and more.
Another biblical creature that is also a biblical character’s first name is ‘sha•fan,’ which means cony (coney). There is a common confusion among Hebrew speakers (and in other languages as well) about the similar rodents: coney, hare, rabbit (and the colloquial bunny).
The word, ‘shafan,’ is mentioned in the Bible as an animal only twice, but as a name it appears over 30 times. Be aware that the word ‘sha•fan’ is also the most common colloquial/slang word in Hebrew for a ‘coward.’
Here’s ‘sha•fan’ in the Bible as a rodent:
“Nevertheless these you shall not eat of those that chew the cud, or of those which divide the cloven hoof: the camel, and the hare, and the coney; for they chew the cud, but divide not the hoof; therefore they are unclean to you”
This is a section of the very detailed Jewish dietary law, named the ‘Laws of Kashroot’ (Kosher Laws).
Here’s the ‘Sha•fan’ in the Bible as a man’s name:
“And it came to pass in the eighteenth year of king Josiah, that the king sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, the scribe, to the house of the Lord, saying”
There is another biblical name, ‘Ach•bor’ that sounds very similar to the word mouse − ‘achbar.’ There is a particularly strange verse in the Bible that includes the names of three prominent people, all with names either identical or similar to rodents:
“And Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; she lived in Jerusalem in the second quarter; and they talked with her”
(Achbor − similar to mouse, Shaphan − coney, Huldah – rat).